Feng Huang at Night

15 Oct

Although it looks old at daytime, the street blocks by the river turn into a big club house at night. This is the most dramatic change I’ve ever seen in a place. On both sides of the river, neon lights stretch two kilometers long. Disco music thunders from the countless bars. You can see some pictures of them in last post. They are so quiet during the day. But after sunset, only people under 30 can “enjoy” that noise. We also took a peek at their price list. A bottle of red wine costs 600 yuan ($100 US/Canadian). We kept wondering how they could afford it in a place like this.

But we are not there for the bars, nor how people spend their, or their parents’, money is our concern. So I can’t judge them. The place only interests us with it’s looks and history. The neon lights bring out its architecture profile. Thus it’s an intriguing place for photograph. There is no single iconic building to be emphasized on. So just snap a picture, turn around and snap another, walk down the street and snap a few more. But of course there are challenges, more so than taking pictures under daylight. To take good night scenic pictures, you need to be aware of a few things.

For point-and-shooters, you should first change the camera to Night Landscape mode which will lower the shutter speed in order to capture more light in dark environment. Then you need a tripod or some place to hold the camera steady. Without doing these two things, you can almost be assure to throw away those pictures. They will either look very dark or blurry. (If you put someone in the frame and take a picture of him/her, that’s called Night Portrait, very different topic, not what I’m discussing here.) For regular point-and-shoot cameras, there are not much else you can do to improve the pictures.

For prosumer point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, forget about the Night Landscape mode. Use Aperture Priority or Manual mode instead. As with day landscape photography, use aperture at f/8 or even smaller when it’s necessary. This is to make sure having all objects in the picture, from near to far, to be as sharp as possible, because at many times when taking landscape images, you are trying to cover objects in a large area and they are not necessarily on the same focal plane.

Now you’ll undoubtedly need a tripod due to slow shutter speed. Do not think you can increase ISO freely (because the camera can) to increase the shutter speed. Higher ISO means more sensor noise. If you plan to spend lots of time on using noise reduction software at post-processing, that’s your choice. My suggestion? Don’t be lazy, bring a tripod. Different camera model has different sensor. My limit is ISO 800 on the D5000 even though the highest it can go is 6400. You need to know your camera’s performance to decide. Also be aware of long exposure can induce noise as well. My limit is 8 seconds in these pictures. Again, know your camera’s performance to decide.

A few minor things. Turn VR (vibration reduction) or IS (image stabilization) off when using tripod. Use a remote release or, if you don’t have that, self-timer which means taking your hand off the camera to reduce camera shake. Take a few shots at various exposure, some over exposed, some under exposed. You are likely to find some under exposed ones actually look better. How much under exposed? Depends on your taste. In the images below, it various from 0 ev to -1.33 ev.

Here is my work flow: Mount camera on tripod and turn off VR on my Nikon lens, do not lock the tripod head yet. I’m already 80% of time on Aperture Priority mode and always using single center point to auto focus. Set desired aperture value. Focus on an object 1/3 into the scene (from near to far). Change auto focus to manual focus (so that the focus point won’t change when it takes multiple shots) and recompose. Lock tripod head after composing. Change release mode to Delayed Remote. With left hand covering (not touching) the viewfinder to prevent lights going in, right thumb presses the wireless remote and wait for the shot. Take a few shots at different (mostly under) exposures.

So there you go. I share my technique and experience with you and hope you’ll do better next time or even do better than I do. No post processing have been applied to these pictures except in one of them I removed a piece of stake by the riverside as I found it distracting. Room for improvement: 1) In half of these shots, I was too concerned of the long exposure noise while I should’ve reduced the ISO to 400 to reduce ISO noise instead; 2) Need a better body – not my body, the camera body, mine is FINE 🙂 – with better sensor and higher resolution (16MP or more), as the D5000 is still just an entry level toy.

The only one here that I didn't use tripod likely because we left it in the hotel at the first night. Shot at f/2.8 @ 1/13 sec @ ISO 800.

f/16 @ 5 sec @ ISO 800, -0.33 ev

The above was taken by a 200mm (DX) lens. No cropping. You can tell how far it was from where I stood by comparing to the pull-out shot (next) picture. f/5.6 @ 10 sec @ ISO 800

f/16 @ 2.5 sec @ ISO 800, -0.67 ev

f/16 @ 2 sec @ ISO 800, -0.67 ev

f/20 @ 1.6 sec @ ISO 800, -1.33 ev

f/16 @ 10 sec @ ISO 800, -0.67 ev

f/20 @ 3.0 sec @ ISO 800, -1.33 ev

f/7.1 @ 1/4 sec @ ISO 400, -1 ev, 200mm (DX)

f/16 @ 2.5 sec @ ISO 800, -0.67 ev

Copyright © 2011 Jenson Yu. All rights reserved.
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Posted by on October 15, 2011 in Photography Techniques, Travel


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